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Department of Decorative Arts: 17th century
© 2010 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi
From 1672, André Charles Boulle enjoyed the privilege of having a workshop at the Louvre, where he brought the technique named after him, but which he did not invent, to its most accomplished heights. In the seventeenth century, Boulle was highly successful, delivering many pieces to the Royal Furniture Repository. This monumental wardrobe is built of a single chest, a technique pioneered by Boulle, and is one of the most beautiful pieces in the Louvre's collections.
The wardrobes of André Charles Boulle
Wardrobes made of a single chest and two large doors were one of Boulle's specialties. They were a new kind of furniture in the early eighteenth century; previously, wardrobes had been built of two superimposed chests and had four doors. The top of this one is formed by a dome with two locks. The chest has two large doors encrusted with floral Boulle marquetry and gilt bronze. The lower part, decorated with gilt bronze lions' muzzles, rested on round feet that must have resembled those of the wardrobe in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, made by the same cabinetmaker. The drawing for this wardrobe is in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Several similar wardrobes by Boulle, or attributed to him, are known, including one with partie and contre-partie marquetry, and a pair. All three are in the Louvre.
Unusually fine floral marquetry
Floral marquetry is usually mounted on an ebony ground. Here, however, as in one or two other rare pieces of Boulle's furniture, the cabinetmaker has inlaid the marquetry on a tortoiseshell ground. The doors are encrusted with bouquet-filled vases resting on a base decorated with acanthus leaves with a butterfly and a bird flitting around them. Inlaid panels on the sides of the wardrobe depict a parrot perched on a branch and a butterfly. The marquetry is extremely delicate and of very high quality. The colors of the woods, somewhat faded today, play on the tortoiseshell ground, giving the whole a richly colored effect. Here, Boulle's command of his materials and his unrivaled skill in cutting out the various parts show him at the height of his powers as a cabinemaker.
The techniques employed
Beneath the inlaid wooden panels are eight Boulle marquetry compartments decorated with a brass and tin fleuron on a horn ground colored in blue on the back. On the top and bottom of the wardrobe are eight panels inlaid in the same manner (brass and tin on a tortoiseshell ground). These compositions, which are smaller than the panels of inlaid wood, add to the polychrome effect and to the lavishness of the piece. The insides of the doors are veneered with ebony and amaranth and inlaid with tin. The use of gilt bronze mounts is relatively limited compared to some of Boulle's works. They can be found on joins, such as the frame around the inlaid panels and the edges. The hinges are decorated with gilt bronze rosettes prolonged by acanthus leaves that blend tastefully with the Boulle marquetry. Though perfectly adapted to the decoration as a whole, the sparing use made of these gilt mounts, along with the abundance of floral marquetry, put this wardrobe at an early period in the cabinetmaker's career.
BibliographyAlcouffe D., Dion-Tennenbaum A., Lefebure A., Le mobilier du musée du Louvre, t.I, Dijon, Editions Faton, 1993, p 70 - 79.Pradere A., Les ébénistes français de Louis XV à la Révolution, Paris, Editions Le Chêne, 1989, p 67
Attributed to André-Charles BOULLE (Paris, 1642 - Paris, 1732)
Ebony and kingwood veneer; marquetry of polychrome wood, brass, pewter, tortoiseshell and horn; gilded bronze
H. 2.55 m; W. 1.57 m; D. 0.58 m
Provenance: Baron Goguelat collection
Assigned from the Mobilier National, 1870
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